Dredge review – A checkered flag of red and white

Do you like a spooky atmosphere, eldritch horror, intriguing mysteries, stylish aesthetics, nautical themes, and the very concept of good video games? Well, humble reader, do I have the game for you! Dredge, an open-world adventure game developed by Black Salt Games and published by Team17, has plenty of surprises up its waterlogged sleeves.

You play as a mariner whose boat crashed upon the rocky shores of a town called Greater Marrow. You wake up on the docks, and a small, portly fellow gets you situated to your surroundings. This man is the mayor, and he sets you up with a new boat.

One thing I really appreciate about Dredge is how quickly it gets you into the gameplay. They tell you the simple controls for your vessel, tell you how to fish, and that’s it. No long, unskippable tutorials or jarring exposition dumps, just you, your boat, and the open ocean. You start with a basic fishing poll and gain more equipment and abilities as you progress. It’s time to catch some fish and make tons of dough! Well, almost. A portion of the revenue you make from catches goes to paying off the boat until you’re debt-free.

Fishing is rather straightforward. All you need to do is find spots of disturbed water, which are marked by splashes. You can tell what kind of species is there by the outline, and you can tell how many are left at a glance. Fish have different mini-games depending on the species, usually some iteration of clicking precisely when a moving line overlaps with another. You can also use nets and crab pots for a more passive playstyle. Simply release the net to drag it behind you, or place a pot and return to it later.

There are several types of fish, such as oceanic and shallow-water fish. Four factors determine the worth of your fish: size, freshness, species, and where you sell it. On top of those stats, there are trophy catches, which are larger and sell for more.

It’s also important to mention that many fish have an additional variant, Aberrations. These are corrupted fish with grotesque, tortured forms. Their features look like something an angry god would inflict on a prideful mortal to humble them. Some have extra eyes or tentacles, some have bone exposed, others have a mouth within their mouth, xenomorph style, and others have painful growths, either fleshy or stonelike. I was never not disturbed by their forms and the text that accompanied them.

Dredging operates similarly to fishing, but instead of hooking fish, you’re collecting materials. The mini-game for dredging has you dodging obstacles while switching between two lanes until a meter fills. Get hit and it resets. Upon completion, you’re given materials that can be used to upgrade your ship. The seas are rich with lumber, metals, and cloth. If you’re lucky, you might even find some sunken treasures.

Upgrading is important because whether it’s a standard fish, an aberration, or something you’ve dredged up from the depths, they take up inventory space all the same. Every fish and material has a different shape, some more cumbersome than others. The only way to gain more inventory space is to pay a hefty sum of cash and materials to the Shipwright.

Inventory space isn’t the only reason to upgrade, you can also add more room for nets and polls, or more importantly for both survivability and convenience, lights and engines. The sea presents many dangers. Whirling gales and sharp rocks are dangerous, but they don’t even come close to the threat level of those who come at night.

You see, when night falls, the danger is immediate and immense. Visibility is decreased and panic sets in, which is shown by an opening eye at the top of the screen. With panic comes a plethora of nasty consequences such as enemies and environmental hazards. The stronger your lights, the better you can keep your head, both literally and figuratively. Good lighting not only keeps you sane but lets you know if you’re about to Titanic yourself into a rock.

Panic adds to the feeling of terror when my hubris gets the better of me and I’m out in the middle of the ocean with the sun rapidly sinking in the sky. Time passes FAST in Dredge, night will fall on you like a predator drops on its prey. There were times when I really should have docked and slept to restore my sanity, but I saw something interesting in the distance and wanted to check it out or wanted to catch just one more fish. Those forays often went awry.

You might know that you’re insane and at risk, but you truly have no idea when some abomination of the deep will decide you look like a nice hors d’oeuvre. Yeah, sure, the safety of the fish market is right over there, but who knows if something lurking just beneath the surface is waiting for you to break from the safety of the shallows.

Everything’s fine until you have to book it from some horror of the deep. That’s where engines come in. You start slow, very slow, everything in your boat is budget. The lights are dim and your engine is shoddy. That’s not ideal when traveling across the vastness of the sea. With good engines, not only can you island hop like a breeze, but you can outrun many of the creatures that want you dead.

Staying safe is paramount to your success as a fisherman. Since storage works on a grid system, even minor damage to your hull could have a big impact. Anything that’s on a piece of grid disabled by damage might get thrown overboard or need repairs. Maybe it’s some corner square that got cut and nothing gets damaged, or it could be dead center on your grid, thus limiting what you can store.

Low sanity compounds on itself harshly, like when something attacks and disables your boat’s engine, thus leaving you nearly dead in the water, susceptible to more attacks. Maybe something turns off your lights, and you have to scramble to turn them back on before you’re driven to the brink of insanity.

Despite all of the thrills, not all surprises are unpleasant. You will occasionally be honored with the appearance of whales and dolphins. On top of that, the world around you is beautiful with its clean, low poly, stylized aesthetics. Time might move fast in Dredge, but it doesn’t move at all while your boat is still, so feel free to enjoy the graphics to your heart’s content.

After a bit of fishing, it’s not long before you meet the Collector, a mysterious fellow who spends his time procuring certain antiques, or rather, having you procure them. Dredging up and delivering cursed items serves as the main quest line. He doesn’t seem like the most trustworthy man, but then he hits you with the, “I will reward you in ways beyond all imagining.” Cool! Who doesn’t love a good Faustian bargain?

You have no direct path to follow, but you do have the pursuits board, which has all of your quests and errands. The quests you’ve completed are greyed out, and the active ones are color-coded. Blue means you need to catch a fish, yellow is tied to the strange characters you’ll run into around the world, and red is for the Collector quest line.

The yellow quests are where the game really shines, as they introduce the down-to-earth characters who inhabit the small islands scattered about. There are 5 main areas: The Marrows, Gale Cliffs, Twisted Strand, Stellar Basin, and Devil’s Spine. The typical quest structure has the player traveling to one of the five island chains, helping one of the locals, and then unlocking an item that they give to the collector.

There are plenty of hefty tasks, like helping a scientist recover her research from a base that was ravaged by a sea monster, or helping an airman honor his fallen comrades and survive by taking on a sentient mangrove. You get the impression that everyone is just trying to get by in this oceanic world. There are hints of greater society beyond the ocean and island chains, but all you can see is blue for miles around. It really makes you feel isolated and adds some extra comfort to talking with those who inhabit the islands.

The little moments aren’t boring by any means. One moment you’ll be delivering a package to a dock worker and talking about the monotony of the job, and the next moment the package starts wriggling. There’s clearly something fishy going on behind the scenes. On top of that, there are plenty of old rumors and hearsay about the odd happenings, all of which fuel intrigue. If you pay close attention to the story, you’ll be able to piece together what’s going on.

Every once and a while, you’ll find a message in a bottle floating around. I highly recommend taking the time to read these and visiting every island to receive the full Dredge experience. There are multiple endings, and it doesn’t make you play through the whole game twice, you can just reload a save that comes up at the point of no return.

While Dredge may sound like an exceptionally difficult game, it’s really not, I just wanted to underline the tone of the world and the brilliance of the horror. In reality, Dredge is… downright comfy. From the little quality-of-life aspects to the broader aesthetics, it does an excellent job of balancing out the dreading with the dredging.

The audio grants Dredge some of the best atmosphere I’ve ever experienced in a game. The cries of the seagulls, the gentle splashing of water against the rocks, the chirping of bugs and the croaking of frogs when you’re close to land in the evening, it all helps to immerse the player. The visuals are also quite the treat. They’re low poly, not low effort, and the simplistic style of the overworld meshes well with the more fleshed-out character profiles. The contrast of reds and blues really highlights the battle between people and nature. The lighthouse, a symbol of illumination, something very important to survival, is red and white in stark contrast to the deep dark blues of the ocean.

It would be a crime not to mention the amazing soundtrack that accompanies the gameplay. The music is both intriguing and deeply melancholic. A haunting mix of harpsichord and piano adds suspense, and It feels like you’re playing out your role in a murder mystery movie. Other tracks feature rolling piano keys, a mournful violin, or a beckoning flute, adding an ethereal feeling and cutting emotion to the tracks. I genuinely love this soundtrack and will continue listening to it long after I stop playing Dredge.

The convenience features add to the delicate balance of horror, immersion, and fun. All of your storage is shared across every dock in the game, so the vastness of the sea never feels like a hassle. On top of that, if you want to tip the balance entirely, you can turn on peaceful mode and just enjoy the fishing life, free of deep-sea corruption. There’s also the fact that you can change the color of highlighted text to suit your fancy. Go ahead, be heretical, and change the “danger” text from red to blue!

Overall, Dredge set out to be a distinct adventure game with elements of horror and mystery, and managed to do just that while somehow retaining its relaxing and charming nature. The game presses the player to overcome challenges and adapt to their situation. The game’s world is deeply disturbed, and bad things are happening to good people who are just trying to live. However, if you play through its compelling story, you’ll find some dark light at the end of your path. We cannot control the horrors that life throws at us, but we can control how we respond to them, and at the end of the day, that’s what Dredge is all about. It would be remiss of me not to give it my first-ever perfect score of 100.

Jackson loves to play and write about video games. Rogue-lites, FPS, and RPG games are his favorite. He's a big fan of the Battlefield series and Warhammer 40K.




Review Guidelines

Dredge is an indie horror gem that will be looked upon fondly by anyone with an affinity for adventure and mystery. Every part of the game is engaging and otherworldly, yet distinctly down to earth. From the charming low-poly graphics, to the deeply emotion-invoking soundtrack, to the heartfelt story, Dredge understands how to make the player feel immersed in its dark yet beautiful world.

Jackson Lustberg

Unless otherwise stated, the product in this article was provided for review purposes.

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